Costa Rica Heads to Elections with 27 Presidential Candidates

    The unprecedented number of applicants highlights the lack of leadership and capacity for political dialogue in the country after the breakdown of the bipartisanship

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    Four months before the elections, there are 27 candidates for the presidential seat that Carlos Alvarado, the President of Costa Rica, will have to leave in 2022. Never have so many candidates been confirmed by their respective political groupings in party assemblies. During this month they will have to register with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the regulatory body of the process.

    On Wednesday the electoral campaign officially began, which will end on Sunday, February 6, when Costa Ricans choose one of the options or postpone the decision for a second round, two months later.

    For the TSE, the extensive list of candidates is a symbol of democratic strength, although it is already generating additional work to control party activities and to draw up a larger than usual electoral ballot to fit all of them.

    Initial banner

    The initial banner of the campaign is indicated by the traditional symbolic act of the transfer of command of the Public Force from the Executive Power to the TSE, which seeks to guarantee the non-interference of the current government in the electoral process.

    In that official act, on October 6, the president of the court, Luis Antonio Sobrado, pointed out that freedom to choose and democracy are “our agreement in the midst of our disagreements.” But this election will not be easy for the more than three and a half million people who will be summoned to the polls, because the breadth of the electoral offer implies the consequent difficulty of access to information on all the contending parties.

    Strength of democracy

    According to Gustavo Román, political advisor and spokesman for the TSE, the electoral oversupply is a symptom of the strength of democracy and at the same time the weakness of the political party system. The first, because “it shows that political-electoral participation continues to be seen as an option by people with different political sensitivities in the country”.

    Also, the weakness is that the ease of registering political parties makes many of them a vehicle for personal aspirations. “It is evident that behind many of these new parties there are leaderships from previous political parties, leaders that, since their ambitions or purposes do not prosper within more established or older political structures, have simply, without any difficulty, enrolled their projects within those other political-party structures,” said the TSE spokesperson.

    From the end of the last century to the present, the number of parties competing in electoral processes has increased enormously in Costa Rica. From seven candidacies in 1994, it rose to 13 in 1998, 2002, 2014 and 2018. There were nine in 2010 and in 2006 a record of 14 applicants was marked. This 2022 there may be up to 27 faces and flags printed on the same sheet that citizens must mark with their preference.

    Complex and plural society

    In the opinion of the political scientist Rotsay Rosales, this is a reflection of the “complex and plural society that we are”. He opined that “the participation of more actors and more citizens in the process favors the legitimacy of those who are representatives.” However, for the political scientist, who has thoroughly studied the Costa Rican political party system, the proliferation of parties is also a product of “the problematic relationship that we have been living in the country for several years between citizenships and formal representation.” He pointed out that “at present there is a depreciation in the citizenship of what the political parties offer, and these do not stop growing in quantity, thinking that with a greater offer they will gain more sympathy.”

    All this, according to Rosales, occurred after the dissolution of the bipartisan system, a process that began in the 90s and was consolidated with the coming to power in 2018 of a third party, outside of the traditional calls. “Paraphrasing Gramsci, the old seems not to finish going and the new does not finish consolidating,” he concluded.

    “The majority of the citizens in Costa Rica feel that the parties have not been able to bring their feelings to the Legislative Assembly or the government, and then they turn to the search for new political parties.” Rubén Rojas, political scientist

    Rojas points out the dissatisfaction of the voters with the political parties. “The majority of citizens feel that the parties have not been able to bring their feelings to the Legislative Assembly or the government and have not met their demands or needs with their activity, and then they turn to the search for new political parties.”

    Solutions on hold

    However, despite this proliferation, the solutions do not arrive. In general, because the parties are co-opted or dominated by elite economic or political forces of power and the parties change leaderships, but maintain their elitism, explained Rojas. “We no longer have the cohesion that revolved around two traditional parties in bipartisanship, but rather, people began to determine their political preferences based on conjunctural elements or the representation of their own interests, changing the partisan family tradition previous ”, he added. Rojas believes that the very existence of many political parties is not necessarily a symptom of a stable or mature democracy.

    “The problem is not so much the number as the type of political parties. Democracies need more programmatic political parties – be they of the center, of the right or of the left – parties that are consistent and predictable in their position on the main issues”, Juliana Martínez, expert in public policy

    That is also what the Uruguayan based in Costa Rica Juliana Martínez, an expert in public policy, refers to. “The problem is not so much the number as the type of political parties. Democracies need more programmatic political parties – be they from the center, from the right or from the left – parties that are consistent and predictable in their position on the main issues, “he said on Twitter before the public discussion on the number of candidates.

    Martínez later told that “the fragmentation of the party system does not give quality in political representation, which is, in turn, an ingredient of the quality of democracy.” As an example of such a situation in Central America, he mentioned Guatemala, “where the same person [the current president, Alejandro Giammattei] ran four times for the presidency, all on behalf of different political parties.”

    The public policy expert pointed out that “a strong democracy needs political parties that have clear, consistent programs, which are then effective guidelines in their political exercise,” and said that “that only happens in programmatic parties, and hardly a country has 27 from those”.

    Integration of political parties

    The specialists also agreed that the lack of dialogue and leadership makes a dent in the integration of political parties, since leaders who do not meet their personal aspirations prefer to create a new party structure and seek an opportunity to run. Of the current 27 applicants, 11 have changed party currency.

    The electoral system allows candidates for the presidency to also run for a deputation, which is used by the parties so that the visibility they can achieve in a presidential campaign results in obtaining at least one of the 57 seats in the unicameral Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica.

    Added to all these political and organizational considerations are the difficulties of citizens’ access to information about parties and access to financing for party groups to face a new election.

    The Costa Rican State recognizes the campaign expenses of the parties that reach 4% of the votes in the presidential election or that obtain at least one deputy. This threshold has been achieved by fewer than ten clusters in recent trials.

    The great challenge for minority parties is to be seen among so many faces and so many flags that will appear in the media, social networks and on the electoral ballot itself on February 6, 2022.

    Resonance Costa Rica

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